Cadence can play a big role in gravel cycling. Gravel is one of the most dynamic versions of cycling due to the many different and changing terrains as well as surfaces. Because of this the ability to change your cadence will help you optimize your performance.
In this post we will simplify the different cadences into three ranges.
Cadence Range #1 - Low Cadence
Oh those steep hills, rough surfaces, or even technical sections really tend to be the "end" of riders during hard efforts. These riders feel the friction and the slow speed, and they force the effort to try and keep their cadence, speed, and momentum. But this is the kiss of death!! In doing this they soar past their limits, flood with lactate, and drown in it in the ocean of the rest of the steep climb or difficult section. It doesn't have to go like this! Take the control back from the terrain and into your hands but using low cadence, both standing and seated. Just like the high cadence, it takes a lot of work to build the strength and efficiency to do this. Use low cadence to control effort on difficult terrain like steep hills or rough terrain.
Cadence Range #2 - Mid Range Cadence
Often we find riders "scrubbing" away their hard earned speed by riding too easy of a gear with too high of a cadence. By shifting a few gears down to find a mid range cadence WHEN at speed, you optimize your chain tension (torque), keeping a firm grasp on your speed. Try using the mid range cadence (with chain tension) to maintain the speed that you have built following an acceleration by you or another rider, a change in terrain giving you speed, or a change in conditions like a tailwind.
Cadence Range #3 - High Cadence
High cadence is the key to making an acceleration effective. For optimal performance accelerating, use high cadence when launching an attack, closing a gap, or raising the speed up.
In this video you will find some example cadences and contexts in which these ranges can be used in gravel riding and racing.
High Cadence to accelerate out of corners: 90-100 rpm
Low Cadence to get traction on loose terrain: 60-70 rpm
High Cadence to build speed over rollers: 85-95 rpm
Low Cadence to stay in lower zones on climbs: 60-70 rpm
High Cadence for high speed sections and downhills: 90-100 rpm
Moderate Cadence for maintaining speed: 75-85 RPM
High Cadence for opening the gap: 90-100 rpm
High Cadence for sprinting: 100+ rpm